We have been examining critics who deny what the Bible teaches about the eternality of hell. Since the Bible explicitly states that those in the Lake of Fire “will be tormented day and night forever and ever,” those who deny this teaching cannot rationally defend their position. In all cases, their arguments commit one or more logical or hermeneutical fallacies. A study of these can help us avoid error and remain faithful to what the Bible teaches. Our first comments come from Skylar, with my response in black text.
Skylar: I do not reject Eternal Conscience Torment because I don’t want to accept what the Bible says, like you claim in your article. I do not accept Eternal Conscience Torment because it is not taught in the Bible anywhere.
Lisle: Revelation 20:10b states, “and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Revelation 14:11a states, “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night…”
Skylar: In fact, every passage that purports to be favourable to ECT proves, upon close examination to actually be supportive of Annilationism (or Conditional Immorality).
Lisle: I would love to know how “and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10) actually somehow means “and they just cease to exist.” Skylar then listed the following verses:
Skylar: John 3:16, Romans 6:23, Matt 10:28, Psalm 1:4-6.
Lisle: Well, none of these verses state or imply that unbelievers cease to exist after judgment. On the contrary, they are all fully consistent with passages like Revelation 14:11 and 20:10. Let’s take them one by one. First we have John 3:16. This verse says nothing about unbelievers ceasing to exist or being annihilated. It does indicate that those who reject Christ will “perish.” Perhaps Skylar thinks this means “cease to exist” because such a meaning is within the range of English definitions of “perish.”
However, the Greek word translated “perish” in John 3:16 is apollumi (ἀπόληται). This Greek word never means “cease to exist.” Rather it means to destroy, ruin, lose, abolish, put out of the way entirely, render useless, kill. All of these imply existence, but a loss in functionality. For example, when an animal is killed, its body no longer functions in the way it was created to function; but its body continues to exist. Likewise, when a city is ruined, it no longer functions as a dwelling place for people. But its atoms continue to exist.
The same Greek root word is used in Matthew 9:17 for wineskins that have burst and are ruined. These wineskins have not ceased to exist. Rather, they no longer function as intended (to hold wine). Therefore, for a person to perish in this sense is for that person to be ruined so that he does not function as designed (to love and glorify God). The same Greek root is used of the lost sheep of the house of Israel in Matthew 10:6, 15:24 – those who had not as yet received Christ. These people were spiritually lost – but they certainly existed. Rather, they were spiritually dead – not glorifying God as they were designed to do. Likewise, in John 3:16, those who reject Christ will perish. They will not cease to exist, but will be spiritually lost forever. They will be ruined and will never function according to their design (to love, glorify, and enjoy the Lord).
Romans 6:23 states, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Why Skylar thinks this somehow supports annihilationism is a mystery. The eternal life believers enjoy in Christ does not mean that we don’t physically die. Rather, after death, we are resurrected to eternal life with God. Likewise, unbelievers die physically and will be resurrected to judgment; they experience eternal death in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:10-15).
Matthew 10:28 states, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” The Greek word translated “destroy” here is ἀπολέσαι – a form of apollumi. We saw earlier that this word never means “cease to exist” but rather refers to something that is ruined or lost in the sense that it does not function as designed. The body and soul of those in hell are ruined – they cannot function as designed (to love and glorify the Lord). And they will be ruined and experience punishment forever (Matthew 25:46; Jude 7).
Psalm 1:4-6 states, “The wicked are not so, But they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish.” I presume that Skylar thinks that “perish” must mean “cease to exist.” But this is not within the range of the Hebrew word from which “perish” is translated (תֹּאבֵֽד). Rather, the word means to ruin or kill. The same root word is used when the Egyptians say to Pharoah, “Egypt is destroyed” in Exodus 10:7. But the plagues did not cause Egypt to cease to exist.
More importantly, the context of Psalm 1:4-6 is not the afterlife, but rather this present world. Psalm 1:1-3 is clearly addressing the present time and the blessings that follow believers. Verse 4 contrasts this with the wicked actions of unbelievers which do not ultimately endure in this present world. So, to claim that Psalm 1:4-6 is teaching something about the eternal state is to mishandle the passage. Thus, none of the verses Skylar presented are contrary to the clear teaching of eternal torment described in passages such as Revelation 14:11 and 20:10.
Skylar: Both Scripture and Nature reveal that the most serious punishment for the most heinous crimes is the death penalty.
Lisle: No. The most serious punishment that civil authorities are permitted to execute is the death penalty (Romans 13:1-4). However, God can and will resurrect the dead (John 5:28-29; Revelation 20:13). And He will cast into the Lake of Fire all those whose names are not found in the Book of Life (Revelation 20:15). If physical death were the most serious punishment that God could execute, then Christ’s words in Matthew 10:28 would make no sense.
Skylar: We intuit this across all times and cultures; death is worse than torture.
Lisle: Not necessarily. And it is not “torture” that people experience in hell, but “torment.” God allows them to reap what they have sown – and they won’t like it. Our next critic, Tracy, states the following:
Tracy: “We will find that both universalism and annihilationism are contrary to the Bible.” Agreed, Universalism (as in everyone will be saved) is wrong. Equally, Annihilationism is wrong. But Universal Reconciliation is not Universalism (as defined above), nor is it annihilationism.
Lisle: It seems like Tracy is claiming that those in hell will eventually be reconciled to God. If I understand her position, this is a type of universalism and is unbiblical. The Bible teaches that those in the Lake of Fire “will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).
Tracy: Equally, the Hebrew doesn’t support an “eternal” hell in the manner we’ve become accustomed to hearing,…
Lisle: Actually, the New Testament passages that speak of eternal hell are written in Greek – not Hebrew. The Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew. But the Old Testament doesn’t have a lot to say about the afterlife. There are certainly a few references. But most of our detailed information about the afterlife comes from the New Testament. Nonetheless, even the Old Testament teaches that the duration of the contempt of unbelievers is the same as the life of believers – eternal (Daniel 12:2).
Tracy: …nor does the Greek.
Lisle: On the contrary! The same Greek word that is translated “eternal” for the life of believers in passages like John 3:16 (αἰώνιον) is also used for the “eternal” fire of hell in Matthew 18:8, 25:41. The same Greek word is used twice in Matthew 25:46 to describe both the life of believers and the punishment of unbelievers: “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Therefore, if you reject the eternal punishment of unbelievers, you have no hope of eternal life for believers.
Indeed, the Greek adjective αἰώνιον when applied to the future always means “eternal” and has no other meaning in Scripture! The NASB always translates it as “eternal” or “forever.” The context of each instance confirms that this is the right translation.
Tracy: But I’m sure such an educated individual as Lisle knows this—which leaves one to ponder.
Lisle: The same Greek word used to indicate that believers will experience eternal life (Matthew 19:29; John 3:16) is used to indicate that unbelievers will experience eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46) in an eternal fire (Matthew 18:8, 25:41). Tracy’s confusion may stem from the fact that there is a similar Greek word that can mean either a long period of time or eternity (depending on context). We will examine this further in the next article. But αἰώνιον always means “eternal” whenever it is used to describe the future everywhere it is used in Scripture.
Tracy: Certainly, while hell will be punitive, it will also be restorative.
Lisle: That’s not what the Bible says. The only way we can be restored into a right relationship with God is by His grace received through faith in Christ (John 14:6). Therefore, those who reject Christ in life have no hope of reconciliation in death. After death comes judgment; there are no more opportunities to repent (Hebrews 9:27). Jesus said that those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness (Matthew 12:32). This is why “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).
Tracy: It’s illogical to state that His wrath endureth forever and his mercy is only for a season.
Lisle: No one is saying that. God’s mercy for believers is eternal. But God’s justice is also eternal. Thus, those who have committed an eternal sin (Mark 3:29) will pay an eternal penalty (2 Thessalonians 1:9; Matthew 25:46).
Tracy: If you believe in the doctrine of endless torment in hell or annihilation, then you do not believe in Colossians 1:15-20.
Lisle: Here Tracy has committed a hermeneutical fallacy – a fundamental error in interpretation. She has violated the principle that the explicit constrains the implicit. Namely, we are supposed to take the clearly stated, detailed, explicit, and specific teachings of Scripture to help us understand the implicit or general teachings. Not the opposite, as Tracy has done here.
Colossians 1:20 teaches that Christ will “reconcile all things to Himself.” To reconcile is to restore harmony or friendship. The world is currently not in harmony with God (James 4:4). This is a problem that God will remedy when He reconciles all things to Himself – bringing the world into harmony with His righteous character. Tracy has her preconceptions as to how God will do this. (Apparently, she thinks that in hell the wicked will eventually be reconciled to God.) But the Bible explicitly teaches that those who have blasphemed the Holy Spirit never have forgiveness of that eternal sin (Mark 3:29; Matthew 12:32). Hence, when Tracy’s preconceptions contradict certain Scriptures (such as Revelation 20:10), Tracy rejects the clear meaning of those Scriptures. She is using her preconceptions of a general principle to override the explicit teachings of the Scriptures.
The proper method of interpretation is the reverse. We look to the Scriptures to see how God will reconcile all things to Himself. The Scriptures teach that God reconciles this world to Himself in two ways: (1) by saving some – paying for their sins on the cross, granting them saving faith, and changing their nature to be righteous, and (2) by removing the unrepentant wicked from this world and containing them forever in the Lake of Fire (Matthew 13:30, 36-42). According to the Bible, this is how reconciliation takes place.
Tracy also seems to be confusing a collective “all” for a distributive “all.” “All” can mean “each and every” as in “all buses use more fuel than all cars.” That’s a distributive use. That is, each bus will use more fuel than any given car. Or “all” can mean “all together” as in “all cars use more fuel than all buses.” That is, the combined usage of fuel by all cars in the world is greater than the combined usage of fuel by all buses in the world. This is a collective use of “all.”
From context, the use of “all” in Colossians 1:20 is collective. We know this because it is the world as a whole that needs to be reconciled to God. Not each and every person or thing within the world needs to be reconciled to God because many have already been reconciled to God. Namely, those believers who have died are now fully reconciled to God. The unfallen angels never rebelled against God, and so they have perfect fellowship and harmony with God now. They do not need reconciliation. Moreover, “sin” cannot be reconciled to God since it is contrary to His nature.
Therefore, this passage does not teach that each and every person or thing in the universe will be restored to right fellowship with God – this would contradict passages like Mark 3:29; Matthew 25:46; Jude 7; Hebrews 6:2; Revelation 20:10-15, and so on. Rather, the universe as a whole will be reconciled to God. Colossians 1:20 is using the collective “all.” We know this because the explicit constrains the implicit.
In response to others, Tracy made the following statements:
Tracy: Aaron and his sons were told they “shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations.” There is your everlasting/forever word
Lisle: There is that sweeping generalization fallacy again. Some of God’s decrees were conditional. In this case (Exodus 40:15), as long as Israel remained faithful to God, they would be His people, and the priesthood would be as specified, and indeed forever. But God does not guarantee provision for Israel if they go after other gods (Deuteronomy 8:19), which they did. Tracy has also committed the fallacy of irrelevant thesis because this “everlasting” is translated from a different word in an entirely different language from the New Testament texts that indicate that hell is eternal. Indeed, the Hebrew word used here has a different semantic domain from the Greek word (αἰώνιον). More on this in the next article.
Tracy: Here’s another
To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever.
If you’re going to go by your limits of face-value English, contradictions of scripture, you say you read, abounds.
Lisle: Not at all. Again, Tracy has not considered the context of the passage. The reference is to Jonah 2:6. In this passage Jonah is praying to God. The prayer is poetic in nature as is clear from the parallelism. Jonah is indeed claiming that he descended to the roots of the mountains and that the earth with its bars was around him forever. But he is speaking poetically, not literally. He is using the same hyperbole that a student might use after taking a very long and difficult test: “Man! That test took forever!” Since the test didn’t literally take forever, should we conclude that the English word “forever” doesn’t really mean “forever?” Of course not. We understand hyperbole. The test was long enough that it seemed like it would never end. If you were in a giant sea creature for three days and nights, you might complain that God is taking forever to deliver you.
Tracy: Was the Aaronic Priesthood “everlasting”?
Was Jonah barred “forever”?
The English translation of the Hebrew owlam says so.
Yet we know both the Aaronic Priesthood was ended, and not forever; and Jonah wasn’t barred “forever.” It was 3 days and 3 nights.
Lisle: No. The context indicates that the first example had a condition that wasn’t met (Israel’s continued faithfulness to God). And the second is poetic and thus non-literal. A non-literal use of a word in poetry doesn’t change its literal meaning elsewhere. This isn’t rocket science. Furthermore, this again is a different word with a different semantic range in a different language from the New Testament references to an eternal hell.
In response to another thread, Tracy states the following:
Tracy: Yes, you provided a list of scripture. But that list of scripture doesn’t take into account the nature of God’s person, which scripture also declares:
Lisle: This again is Tracy violating the principle of the explicit constraining the implicit. Tracy is taking her preconceptions about God’s nature to infer what He will do with unrepentant sinners. She then dismisses the many Scriptures that explicitly state what God will do with unrepentant sinners because those passages are contrary to her preconceptions. That is hermeneutically backwards. To understand the author, we take his clear statements regarding the details and use those to better understand the general principle.
Tracy: Is His wrath eternal?
Lisle: Not for believers (Jeremiah 3:12). However, it is for unbelievers (Jeremiah 17:4; Malachi 1:4; John 3:36; Revelation 14:10-11).
Tracy: Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His loving devotion endures forever.
Lisle: But does Tracy really believe God’s lovingkindness is “forever?” She rejects that God’s anger is forever against the wicked (Jeremiah 17:4). Why would she accept that God’s devotion endures forever for the faithful (1 Chronicles 16:34; Psalm 106:1, 107:1, 118:1, 118:29, 136:1; Jeremiah 33:11)?
Tracy: For his anger endureth but a moment
Lisle: Tracy has again ignored the context of Psalm 30:5. God’s anger toward His redeemed people endures but a moment (Psalm 30:5, 103:9, ). For the unrepentant, His anger burns forever (Jeremiah 17:4; Malachi 1:4).
Tracy: He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever
Lisle: Again, Psalm 103:9 is in the context of God’s redeemed people. For those who continue to rebel, the Lord says, “For you have kindled a fire in My anger Which will burn forever” (Jeremiah 17:4). In Malachi 1:4, God refers to those wicked “people toward whom the LORD is indignant forever.” It’s easy to pull verses out of context as Tracy has done, build a false theology, and then ignore all the verses to the contrary. But this isn’t proper exegesis of Scripture. We should build our theology on what all the Scriptures teach – not on what we really want them to teach. We are to interpret Scripture consistently with Scripture.
Tracy: Nowhere in scripture do we see a definition of God’s person being like the pagan gods.
Lisle: Who is claiming that?
Tracy: Our precious Lord, who is the exact representation of the Father says He is Love.
Lisle: True, though irrelevant to the issue at hand. God is also a righteous judge (Genesis 18:25). He will therefore not allow unrepentant sin to go unpunished.
Tracy: Yet nowhere that He is eternal wrath.
Lisle: The biblical text says that God’s anger/wrath will burn forever for the unrepentant (Jeremiah 17:4; Revelation 14:10-11).
Tracy: Jesus Christ will restore ALL things
Lisle: This is the fallacy of irrelevant thesis; that Christ will restore all things is not in doubt. The issue is how Christ will restore all things, and whether “all” is being used distributively or collectively. Tracy assumes a distributive use of “all” and thus that each and every person (and angel, object, and abstraction) will eventually be restored to a right standing with God – a type of universalism. She then dismisses or reinterprets all the Scriptures contrary to that position. But if we let the Bible speak for itself, we will find that God restores all things collectively, and that He does so by paying for the sins of the repentant and changing their nature (2 Corinthians 5:12), and by throwing the unrepentant into an eternal Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:10-15). Those who are unrepentant never enter God’s rest (Hebrews 4:1-11).
Tracy: Note that since the beginning of the world, God has spoken about the time when Jesus Christ will return to restore all things. God spoke this through the mouth of all His holy prophets, thus emphasizing its great importance. The restoration of all things will be accomplished at the creation of the Eternal Kingdom of God of the New Heaven and the New Earth.
Lisle: Yes. The Bible uses the same word for the eternal life believers will enjoy in God’s eternal kingdom as it uses for the eternal torment/punishment that unbelievers will experience in hell. Again, if you reject an eternal hell, you have no hope of eternal life.
Tracy: Revelation 21:1-6a
1 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away”. 5 Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new”. And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful”. 6 And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End…”
Lisle: Tracy stopped in the middle of verse 6. Had she continued to verse 8, she would have seen that this section of Scripture contrasts the eternal state of God’s redeemed with the eternal state of the wicked. Namely, “their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8b).
Tracy: Not everlasting.
Lisle: I’m not sure why Tracy made this comment or what she means by it. Is it because God is called “the Beginning and the End?” Such a phrase does not mean that God has an ending in time – for the Scriptures are explicit that He is eternal (Romans 16:26), as is the home of believers in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:1). Rather no one is before God and none will be after God since He is eternal and the Creator of all things.
Tracy: Young’s Literal Translation ‘And if thy hand or thy foot doth cause thee to stumble, cut them off and cast from thee; it is good for thee to enter into the life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast to the fire the age-during.
Weymouth New Testament ‘If your hand or your foot is causing you to fall into sin, cut it off and away with it. It is better for you to enter into Life crippled in hand or foot than to remain in possession of two sound hands or feet but be thrown into the fire of the Ages.
Lisle: Tracy is citing Matthew 18:8. She picked two English translations that do not translate the Greek word αἰώνιον as “eternal.” (All the other English translations to which I have access do translate this word as “eternal” or “everlasting.”) Does this mean that αἰώνιον doesn’t really mean eternal? Not at all.
Robert Young’s translation of Scripture was designed to help students understand the biblical text by reproducing Hebrew and Greek idioms in English – an extremely literal translation. Thus, students learn that “age-during” is the English equivalent of the Greek way of saying “eternal.” Indeed, Young uses exactly the same words to describe the eternal life spoken of in John 3:16: “…that every one who is believing in him may not perish, but may have life age-during” (John 3:16b, Young’s literal translation). It is also the way Young translates the “eternal God” in Romans 16:26: “the age-during God.” Young recognized that “age-during” is the Greek way of saying “eternal.”
Likewise, Richard Weymouth’s translation is also idiomatic – attempting to preserve the Hebrew and Greek figures of speech as if they had been written in English. So, Weymouth often translates the Greek word for “eternal” as “of ages.” For example, the Weymouth translation of John 3:16 states, “For so greatly did God love the world that He gave His only Son, that every one who trusts in Him may not perish but may have the Life of Ages.” Other times, Weymouth translates this same Greek word as “eternal.” The eternal penalty that unbelievers experience in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 is translated by Weymouth as “eternal.”
So, these translations do not deny the eternality of life or hell, but rather preserve (in many instances) the idiomatic wording. They confirm that the unbeliever’s afterlife in hell is the same duration as the believer’s afterlife with God, since both use the same Greek word.
The consistent teaching of Scripture is that God will eternally uphold the existence of each and every person. Each person will either repent of sin and experience eternal life with God, or will pay for their own sins eternally in the Lake of Fire – an eternal death. But how do we know that English Bibles have properly translated the word “eternal?” Is it possible that all major translations are wrong? We will examine this in the next article.
 There is also a categorical use of the word “all.” When used categorically, “all” means “all kinds of.” This use is common in Scripture. For example, 1 Timothy 6:10 states that the love of money is the root of all evils. This does not mean that each and every evil action was committed because of a love of money. After all, when Adam and Eve fell into sin, there was no money. Rather, the passage means that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (and is translated that way in the NASB). Therefore, we should not automatically assume a distributive sense of the word when we come across “all,” lest we misconstrue the author’s intention.